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Roulette v. Dep't of Central Mgmt. Serv.

OPINION FILED FEBRUARY 18, 1986.

MARSHALL B. ROULETTE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

THE DEPARTMENT OF CENTRAL MANAGEMENT SERVICES, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Joseph M. Wosik, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE STAMOS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Defendant was ordered to produce the results of a psychological examination administered to plaintiff as part of his application for employment as a police officer. The psychologist who administered the test and interviewed the plaintiff refused to release this information as ordered and was sentenced to five days in jail for his noncompliance. Defendant now appeals, claiming that the court erred in ordering release of plaintiff's evaluation material.

The plaintiff applied to the Illinois Department of Central Management Services (CMS) for a position as police officer. As part of the application process, the plaintiff was required to undergo a psychological evaluation. One phase of the evaluation consisted of a written test, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). During the second phase of the evaluation, the plaintiff was interviewed by psychologist, Dr. James Chandler, who is employed by the Illinois Department of Law Enforcement and acts as a consultant to CMS in screening job applicants. While he interviewed the plaintiff, Dr. Chandler took notes. Then he prepared a written evaluation of the plaintiff's MMPI scores and assessed plaintiff's psychological fitness to engage in police work.

After learning that he was not chosen as a police officer, plaintiff requested CMS to produce all of the documents concerning his application for employment. The defendant, CMS, provided plaintiff with all of the material that he requested, except Dr. Chandler's handwritten notes and an interpretive report of the plaintiff's MMPI results prepared by Dr. Chandler.

Pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (Ill. Rev. Stat., 1984 Supp., ch. 116, par. 201 et seq.), the plaintiff filed an action in circuit court, in which he demanded that the defendant and Dr. Chandler produce the doctor's handwritten notes and the evaluation of plaintiff's MMPI results. Dr. Chandler received a subpoena to appear in court and to produce the foregoing documents. He appeared but refused to produce the requested information because he regarded it as confidential and exempt from inspection under the FOIA. Since he refused to comply with the subpoena, the court sentenced Dr. Chandler to five days in jail. Defendant now appeals from this sentence and from the court's production order.

Defendant contends on appeal that the information requested by the plaintiff is exempt from inspection under several Illinois statutory provisions. First, defendant claims that the FOIA does not require release of this information because examination material is not subject to public scrutiny. Defendant's argument in this regard is persuasive.

The FOIA was enacted in 1984 to provide a statutory mechanism whereby all citizens could obtain full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts and policies of those who represent them. (Ill. Rev. Stat., 1984 Supp., ch. 116, par. 201.) Pursuant to this purpose, the legislature provided in the Act that government records shall be opened for inspection and copying. (Ill. Rev. Stat., 1984 Supp., ch. 116, par. 203.) However, certain records are exempt from public scrutiny. Among the exempt documents are "test questions, scoring keys and other examination data used to administer an academic examination or determine the qualifications of an applicant for a license or employment." Ill. Rev. Stat., 1984 Supp., ch. 116, par. 207(j).

The documents requested by plaintiff can be characterized as examination data used to determine the qualifications of an applicant for employment. Plaintiff wishes to inspect the State psychologist's handwritten notes. Dr. Chandler took these notes during an oral interview, the purpose of which was to determine plaintiff's suitability for employment. Consequently, these notes are examination data. Similarly, Dr. Chandler's written interpretation of plaintiff's MMPI results is included in the category of examination data, since this information was used to determine whether plaintiff was psychologically suited to police work.

Plaintiff contends that the documents in dispute are not exempt from inspection. This is so, according to plaintiff, because they are subjective evaluations and thus do not qualify as examination data under the FOIA. Plaintiff argues that the purpose of the testing exemption is to protect the integrity of the public agency's evaluation process. Examination material must be exempt from inspection because if it were made public, prospective examinees would be able to prepare their answers in advance. It is plaintiff's belief that only objective test material must be kept private because subjective material could not provide a competitive edge to future job applicants.

Plaintiff's argument has some merit, but he fails to take into account the fact that release of the results of a psychological examination could undermine the effectiveness of defendant's hiring process. It is true that an MMPI evaluation is subjective in nature. There are no wrong or right answers, and individual responses are of little consequence in determining the applicant's psychological profile. Rather, the applicant's responses to true/false questions are surveyed, and the pattern of his responses is compared to the patterns of a norming population. This comparison determines the extent to which the applicant possesses certain emotional and affective traits. McKenna v. Fargo (D.N.J. 1978), 451 F. Supp. 1355, 1359-60.

Notwithstanding the fact that performance on the MMPI is not measured against an absolute standard, if Dr. Chandler's evaluation of plaintiff's responses were released, future applicants might be able to discern which pattern of responses indicates a certain psychological profile. Furthermore, the information requested by the plaintiff is not simply a summary of his MMPI scores. Plaintiff wishes to inspect Dr. Chandler's own written interpretation of a computerized summary of MMPI results. This information would allow a prospective applicant to determine what pattern of responses Dr. Chandler finds indicative of fitness for police work. Armed with this insight, an aspiring police officer could attempt to tailor his responses on the MMPI so that he appears psychologically able to handle the duties of law enforcement.

Similarly, the release of Dr. Chandler's handwritten notes could undermine the integrity of the defendant's evaluation techniques. This is so because the doctor's notes undoubtedly reveal his assessment of plaintiff's responses to questions posed during the interview. A future applicant could determine from these notes what Dr. Chandler found significant in plaintiff's answers. The applicant could then formulate his own responses to demonstrate psychological fitness for police work. Even if an applicant failed to guess correctly what responses were appropriate, the purpose of defendant's testing program would be frustrated because the psychologist would be unable to elicit candid and spontaneous responses from the applicant.

• 1 A review of legislative intent and the statutory scheme of exemptions under the FOIA reveals further that the disputed documents in this case should remain private. During debates in the House, Representative Currie, who sponsored the Bill, noted that the FOIA would "ensure that there is * * * accountability to the people, that what we pay our bureaucrats to do for us will be open and available for us to inspect." (House Debates, H.B. 234, 83d General Assembly, May 25, 1983, at 181.) The purpose of the Act is to open agency action to the light of public scrutiny and to protect the public from government "malfeasance" and "misfeasance." (House Debates, H.B. 234, 83d General Assembly, May 25, 1983, at 200-01.) Moreover in the public policy section of the Act as it was finally codified, the legislative intent is stated as follows:

"[A]ccess [to public records] is necessary to enable the people to fulfill their duties of discussing public issues fully and freely, making informed political judgments and monitoring government to ...


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